On being a feminist fashion photographer

 

I love my industry. Fashion is an exciting, dynamic, billion pound industry that employs thousands and gives millions the choice each morning to make a statement about who they are, through their clothes. But as a card-carrying feminist there are facets to the biz I would like to change. 

I read an interesting quote in an interview with model, Abbey Lee, in the Sunday Times Style this weekend (8/5/16). She says ‘I think there is a lot that is wrong with the way that fashion is run. It’s young girls working with, for the most part, grown men. The treatment, protection and care taking of models could be better’. So firstly, there’s the imbalance. A lot of the models on runways and in editorials are very young, sometimes only 15. Girls too young are often cast inappropriately. So then, there's the sexualisation of girls. The beauty ideals we see time and time again in magazines and on billboards are pedestrian: young, slim, white.  And then, lest we forget, there’s the lack of diversity. 

Bo Gilbert, British Vogue's first 100 year old model

Bo Gilbert, British Vogue's first 100 year old model

These are troubling issues and only begin the scratch the surface. However, there is an upside. The industry is changing and undergoing an exciting time at the moment. Winnie Harlow, America’s Next Top Model contestant, brand ambassador for Desigual, runway model for Ashish, cover model for I.D. and Dazed has vitiligo. Ashley Graham, ‘plus-size’ model and body activist, has appeared in campaigns for major brands such as Levi’s and was recently the first 'plus-size' model to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. (Incidentally, plus-size is a term I hope to see eradicated before the end of my career). Linda Rodin, business woman and model approaching 70, recently appeared in a campaign for The Kooples. Last year, & Other Stories used transgender models for their campaign. And just last week Harvey Nichols created a special campaign in celebration of Vogue's centenary issue, which featured 100-year-old model, Bo Gilbert.

 
Ashley Graham, first plus-size model on the cover of Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue

Ashley Graham, first plus-size model on the cover of Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue

When I’m involved in casting for shoots, I try to encourage diversity, work with models that sit outside the stereotype, and cast age appropriate.  

What makes me especially angry is how the media, particularly women’s magazines, bombard us with articles on subjects such as ‘toe contouring (yes, really)’, ‘knee contouring’ (yes, REALLY), ‘bum contouring’ (YES, REALLY) ‘strobing’, ‘clumpy lashes’ and a whole host of other things that make women wonder if their appearance is good enough. I follow a lot of magazines on social media because I need to know their visual identity for my work, but when I see tweets about the topics mentioned above, it makes my blood boil because it feels like an assault. Let me explain my position. 

My issue isn’t with articles like this existing. I’m incredibly proud to be a part of the fashion and beauty industries. I like to look my best. I wear make-up most days. I take time to consider what I’m wearing. I always make an effort to leave the house feeling good.

My issue is the urgency and insistence with which these articles are communicated. These are verbatim tweets from media sources I otherwise, enjoy: 

  • Here's why you need to try this *green* blusher
  • Time to start wearing lipstick on your eyelids? The internet says yes... 
  • The summer wardrobe staple you NEED to know about
  • If you wear glasses, you NEED this genius makeup trick
  • Everything you *need* to know about Dyson's supersonic hairdryer
  • Want an instant healthy glow? You *need* to try this product
  • You've been washing your hair wrong your whole life

What’s with the 'need'?

I’m not so naive I don’t realise these tweets are click bait.

I’m not saying other women don't realise this.

I'm not saying you shouldn't enjoy articles about vagina steaming if that's what floats your boat.

I know magazines can say they’re simply reporting on a beauty trend and it’s one article among hundreds of others that may be more interesting to its audience.

But, if you hear a message enough times, you’ll start to absorb it.

When I was growing up, I remember being instructed by the media that as a woman, I needed to worry about cellulite. Fast forward to 2016 though and I’ve lost count of the amount of things the media tells women they 'need' to worry about. Cellulite feels positively antiquated in the archives of ‘areas of physical appearance women should worry about’. Nowadays we’ve got to worry about thigh gaps, HD brows, teeth whitening, lip injections, chin implants, waist trainers (though this has definitely been revived from the archives) THE LIST GOES ON. My Spotify ads are all about pregnancy tests and cool sculpting, ‘a non-invasive treatment for fat removal’. So what message does this send? I should be thinking about getting pregnant and making damn sure I lose the weight afterwards.

It just feels like we’re being manipulated to have our money, our time, and our self esteem sapped from us. Because here’s the rub: pick up a men’s magazine and there is nothing in there suggesting a dozen ways men can improve their appearance. No suggestion they could be spending their time preening and perfecting their bodies. This is all time men gain to continue ruling the world. I recently read an issue of The Gentleman’s Journal and was struck by the volume of articles on politics, success, investment, and finance. Yes, there were articles about fashion but there wasn’t any tone that men needed to know about a new product that would transform their appearance.  

Another term I have an issue with is ‘investment piece’. A Céline hand bag is not an investment. Do you know what is an investment? A house. An ISA account. I love Céline and their handbags are beautiful. Buy one if you want - buy 10! But don’t be duped into thinking it's an investment. As Sophia Amoruso says in #Girlboss ‘Money looks better in your bank account than on your feet.’   

It may not bother or affect you, and that’s great. But I find this communication aggressive and obscene. It makes me grind-my-teeth angry when tweet after tweet on these topics appear in my timeline. I feel stifled, upset and frustrated. I should just curate my timeline and mute the accounts I find distressing, but this is a status quo I wanted to challenge and start a conversation about. So if you have any comments, please let me know, I’d love to hear from you. I’ll conclude with some wisdom of jaw-dropping clarity from Caitlin Moran in her book How to be a woman: “You can tell whether some misogynistic societal pressure is being exerted on women by calmly enquiring, ‘And are the men doing this, as well?’ If they aren’t, chances are you’re dealing with what we strident feminists refer to as ‘some total fucking bullshit’.”